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Boise City Council approves new downtown building amidst heavy opposition from neighbors

The new towers will be built in the east end of downtown. Council members listened to more than two hours of public testimony, most of it against the project.

BOISE, Idaho — A new building is coming to Downtown Boise. 

City Council members approved the plans Tuesday night following hours of testimony from people against it.

Idaho commercial developer Ball Ventures Ahlquist is behind the plan that will add to the Boise skyline on the east end of downtown.

The mixed-use property at the intersection of 4th and Idaho streets would offer housing, office space, parking, and retail shops.

The City Council approved the proposal 4-3 on a divided vote with Mayor Lauren McLean acting as the tie-breaker. 

BVA believes the building will bring a lot of value to the community.

“It's going to be spectacular from the ground level,” BVA CEO Tommy Ahlquist said. “I do think it's going to provide much-needed housing.”

The project includes two towers. One 13-story tower will hold an Idaho Central Credit Union branch as well as office space. The other tower will be 11 stories tall and will offer parking, and 100 housing units.

“It really truly is mixed-use, meeting the intent of the criteria for this area,” Ahlquist said. “Because it does have 100 residential units, it does have much-needed office space and then retail on the ground floor.”

The housing aspect is perhaps the primary reason it was approved by the City Council. The councilors who voted to approve it were Council President Elaine Clegg, council member TJ Thomson, council member Patrick Bageant, and McLean.

“Anything we can do to ensure we have housing, both in our downtown core and throughout our neighborhoods, in a built environment and style that is reflective of our past but also the future of where we’re headed is so incredibly important,” McLean said.

The three council members that voted against the project were Council member Holli Woodings, Council President Pro-Tem Lisa Sanchez, and council member Jimmy Hallyburton.

“My biggest issue is that we’re not giving people a predictable development pattern,” Hallyburton said. “I think that one of our goals with Blueprint Boise and any other planning document in any rezoning is give people a predictable development pattern.”

Sanchez recommended the council wait to approve a project like this until the city is done re-writing its zoning code.

“We can’t unbake a cake," she said. "That’s a big cake in downtown, that part of downtown."

One of the conditions for Clegg’s approval is that at least 5% of the units need to be available as affordable housing.

“There is workforce housing and there is affordable housing and there are vouchers that are accepted,” Ahlquist said. “We are going to accept at least five [percent] and more than that as well.”

Neighbors in the area, including some at the neighboring Imperial Plaza Condominiums building on 3rd Street, aren’t as keen on the proposed development. Many of them and other neighbors testified in opposition to the project.

“The scale and mass of this project would make it one of the largest in the Central District Business District, in the Old Boise East side area it is completely overwhelming,” Resident of the East End Neighborhood Patricia Dunlop said. “[It] gives no consideration to the character and scale of adjacent buildings.”

Size and fit are one of the main concerns from neighbors and business owners.

“This proposed building is too tall and even with its mixed occupancy,” Old Chicago Connection owner Tom Keely said. “It will still bring 7,000 traffic visits per day.”

Those testifying against the project also argued that it shouldn't be allowed under the Old Boise Eastside master plan from 2004.

“You’re supposed to follow the comprehensive plan that is in place and the current specific plan addressing this site is the Old Boise Eastside plan,” resident Matthew Parks said.

Ahlquist said the project would be allowed under Boise's comprehensive plan, called Blueprint Boise, which went into effect in 2011.

“This is the appropriate project in the right part of town,” he said. “There will be people that will be upset about it because they're always upset when you put new things in."

It took BVA two tries to get the project approved. When it went before the City Council in January, the developer was told to go back and make some changes.

BVA added housing units, lowered the height of one of the towers, increased the setbacks to the street and more.

Construction is expected to start in the fall and it should last for at least 16 months.

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